Dealing With Fire Alarm Panels During VoIP Migration

As private branch exchange (PBX) systems give way to the latest in Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology, there are plenty of unexpected challenges that can pop up. One such challenge involves integrating existing devices, such as your fire alarm control panel, into your new VoIP network. Getting these devices to play nice with your VoIP system may take time and effort, but it can be done. If you're planning to switch your business over to VoIP and have concerns about your fire alarm system, then you'll want to read on.

Pinpointing the Problem

The average fire alarm control panel relies on a dialer that dials a monitoring station whenever an alarm is triggered. Many older fire alarm panels still use analog dialers that are designed to work on Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS) lines. This isn't a big deal for a building that still relies largely on analog PBX systems, but it can pose a challenge for anyone looking to replace their building's current PBX infrastructure with VoIP.

Instead of relying on conventional POTS lines, VoIP technology allows phone users to make and receive calls over the IP network. However, the analog signals transmitted by a typical analog alarm panel dialer are optimized for voice, whereas VoIP systems rely on signals optimized for data. As a result, it's nearly impossible for an analog dialer to communicate through a digital network, leaving the fire alarm panel completely isolated from its monitoring station.

Understanding Your Options

Simply running a dedicated POTS line to each panel can help you sidestep problems associated with integrating analog dialers into your new digital network. However, the cost of running an individual POTS line to each panel location can become financially burdensome in the long run. You may also need to run both primary and backup POTS lines to each panel in compliance with the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 72 National Fire Alarm Code. However, recent changes are now allowing other technologies to be used in lieu of a second POTS line unless they're not available in your area.

Another option involves networking all of the fire alarm panels together. This way, you'll only need to run POTS lines to a single panel that contains your analog alarm panel dialer. Not only is this option less expensive than running POTS lines to each individual panel, but you can also take advantage of monitoring software that keeps an eye on all of your networked fire alarm panels. This method may not work with some older fire alarm panels, in which case the panels must be replaced with panels offering networking capabilities.

A third option involves using network adapters that are capable of converting analog signals from your dialer to the digital signals needed by your VoIP network. Not only does this cut out POTS lines entirely, but you won't have to face the expense of replacing your older fire alarm panels. For fire code compliance, you'll need two network adapters per panel and both adapters must have different network paths for primary and backup transmission.

Cellular network-based communicators can also be used to link fire alarm panels to their monitoring stations. As noted by Security Info Watch's Shawn Welsh, revisions in the NFPA 72 code allow cellular communicators to act as the sole path for fire communications. As a result, you'll only need one cellular connection instead of two POTS connections, resulting in significant savings. Using cellular communications can also sidestep the need to integrate the fire alarm system into the VoIP network. However, the lack of cellular coverage can make this option unworkable in some areas.

These options should give you greater flexibility when it comes to integrating your fire alarm control panels into your VoIP infrastructure. Contact a local fire alarm monitoring company, such as Fyr Fyter Inc, for more information.